Annie John | Study Guide

Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John | Symbols



Annie's trunk represents her idyllic childhood. Mother stores all of Annie's memorabilia inside: her first pair of shoes, her first outfit, her report cards, and so on. Whenever Annie feels down, she and her mother look through the trunk and tell the stories of the important items, which makes Annie feel loved. Mother brought the trunk with her from Dominica when she moved away from her own domineering parents. Despite the fact that it holds Annie's memorabilia, the trunk remains intrinsically tied to Mother's identity. When Annie and Mother's relationship sours, Annie asks her father to build a new trunk. When she asks, she sees her mother's shadow on the wall: "a big and solid shadow," reinforcing the idea that as long as they share a trunk, Mother will loom over Annie's life. After the new trunk is built, Annie takes it to England and builds a new life away from her mother and the memories they shared.


The color black represents deception and depression. Annie first feels the pit of depression after the fight in which her mother tricks her into eating breadfruit. Annie describes the feeling as "a black ball ... no bigger than a thimble" resting deep inside her. As time passes, the black ball grows and becomes more difficult for Annie to carry, reminding readers of the black snake that deceptively coiled in Mother's fig basket that soon became too heavy to carry. Annie's questions of whether her mother ever loved her or whether she had been deceived intensify with the weight of the black ball. Annie realizes the ball is filled with soot—the remnants of a devastating fire—that spreads inside her. When she catches her reflection in the window, she describes herself as ashy and looking like a young Lucifer. After the altercation in which Mother calls Annie a "slut," she "sees the frightening black thing leave her to meet the frightening black thing that had left me." After that, the blackness takes over everything in Annie's life, becoming so heavy she cannot get out of bed. The rains come, purifying Annie of the black soot and allowing her a fresh start in England.


The snake represents deception. Annie's mother tells her the story of a snake that coiled inside her basket of figs as a child. Mother carried the snake on her head as she walked home, not knowing the danger that lurked in her fruit basket. As she walked, the basket began to feel heavier and heavier, much like the emotional weight of deceit. When she opened the basket, she was horrified to discover the dangerous snake inside. Mother tells Annie this story after accusing her of lying about playing marbles. Mother hopes the story will scare Annie into telling her the truth, and it almost does. Annie nearly divulges the whereabouts of her marbles to her mother but stops once she realizes her mother is manipulating her. Annie refuses to be manipulated by the folk stories of her past, making a new identity for herself apart from cultural and gender expectations.

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